FRISCO, Texas — As the third and final preseason contest approaches for the Dallas Cowboys and Las Vegas Raiders, the two set to meet at AT&T Stadium on Saturday, the former has yet to play its key starters in August; and that plan likely won't change anytime soon (certainly not in the next three or four days).
So while the Cowboys have not yet made any determinations on who'll take the field against the Raiders, it's exceedingly unlikely you'll see anything different from the previous two weeks — barring the decision to sit Deuce Vaughn, Jalen Tolbert and the like.
There's a reason for this thought process in Dallas, as explained by the owner and general manager Jerry Jones on Wednesday.
"You know, Al Davis, the very first time I was ever out of practice with him, he stopped a drill," said Jones ahead of the first padded practice in Frisco. "He got out and stopped it. We had maybe run seven snaps, and the drill was a contact drill, and it was a training camp in Austin; He brought the team up there. And, man, the coaches were just dumbfounded.
"What's he doing stepping over and stopping the drill? He said, 'That's it, man.' He said, 'The Raiders are not gonna leave anything on the field here in August. We're gonna need it in December. We're through. Nobody is going to have any more contact here.'"
That experience rings eternal in the mind of Jones.
"I use that as a memory because you do have to sometimes use the word, but you've gotta weigh the good you're getting out of it over what it might do to availability, and it's a hard call," he said. "I like [head coach Mike McCarthy's] approach. And we all see what it is now — you've now gotten used to it and I have to.
"I think he wants [the veterans] there in December."
For McCarthy's part, it's all about his own personal experience having included losing a star player (or two) to injury in the preseason.
"Well, I've lost players," said McCarthy. "I lost when starting left tackle in a Family Night Scrimmage, so I know what that looks like — back in 2012. It's really a risk assessment. I mean, there's pros and cons of playing them, and there's pros and cons of not playing them. You know, there's pros and cons of practicing against another team, and there's pros and cons of not.
"It's all just understanding how it all fits together."
McCarthy is entering his fourth year as head coach of the Cowboys and he's mostly operated under this same preseason edict each year, though the development and progression of his roster to being one of the best in the entire league, on both sides of the ball, has seen him do away with scrimmages against other teams — having participated in two in 2022 (Broncos and Chargers) — taking one additional step toward not overexposing his top players.
"I think the other part of it is, where are you as a team?" said McCarthy. "What are you trying to get done? Do you have a veteran group you believe in? This is Year 3 for a lot of our group.
"We're further along, clearly, on defense than we've been, so I have great confidence in that part of it. Offensively, my only focal point for me, as I move forward, is to get to the starting offensive linemen. Tomorrow's tape practice will be the first time we'll have the five starters in a team period. It's about just staying in tune with that.
"But yeah, I mean, I think we're all a product of our experiences, and I'll see them work both ways."
All in all, Jones and McCarthy are in lockstep with the belief that the goal is to have as many players healthy later in the season as is possible, but especially those players who sit atop the depth chart. It's advice an older McCarthy would probably travel back in time to deliver to his younger version.
"I think the risk assessment is maybe you get older, you do get a little uncertain," he admitted. "I don't know that. But, you know, I just think common sense needs to prevail. But, you have 32 teams and not everybody attacks it the same way. So that's really the answer. [For me] it's, 'Where's my team at?'.
"Now, if we were all just brand new and young, and I was back in 2006, 2007 — we were playing all three games. We'd played 25 in our first game, would've played the first half and second game, and played into the third quarter of the third game. I have done that formula, but this format works for us."
And so it goes, it's on to Week 1 for the most important pieces of the Cowboys roster.